Opening a Gym


Hello readers (all 0-3 of you)! I want to preface this post with a couple of things:

  1. I am more accustomed to academic writing so I will do my absolute best to not be completely plain and boring. I want these posts to be more informal.
  2. This post is going to be more geared towards potential gym owners but I think anyone can benefit from this.

So I want to start off by saying I am not a millionaire dollar gym owner or even close to a fraction of that but I feel like I have some good ideas for starting a gym. People have many different opinions on how to start a gym and it all really depends on your financial capability, potential investors, ability to qualify for loans, etc.

What I am going to tell you is based on personal experience but I will add before starting a gym I had a good bit of background in business so I am not a complete schmuck. Before opening my gym I was middle-management in the private security industry and a main part of my role was to help start new branches. Turns out starting those new branches from scratch carried over pretty well to opening a business. I also have a bachelor’s in Organizational Security and Management, which helped a lot with the business aspects as well as the security aspect of a 24/7 gym.

I started my gym out of pocket and no I did not have $30,000+ saved up. I had much much less than that. And then a month after opening I won a grant contest which I will touch on a little.

These are my key points I will touch on:

  1. Building lease vs. Purchase
  2. Equipment purchasing
  3. Loans
  4. Grants
  5. Investors

I attempted the SBA loan route for a building and that was a bust. The building I had lined up got purchased, and that is the building I based my loan application on so that fell through. So eventually I found a building to lease, which turned out was a better option for me. I recommend leasing to start unless you have a good quantity of money saved up. Leasing is cheap from a start-up standpoint. All you need is money for a deposit usually. Sometimes first and last months rent, but for me I only needed the deposit. Plus landlords will usually help with getting the building set up for a gym if it isn’t already. That means tearing out offices, cubicles, etc. I was fortunate enough to lease a space that only needed cubicles removed and that was free.

Equipment is the most expensive part of starting a gym. If you have perused some of the big guys out there like Rogue Fitness, Elite FTS, Legend Fitness, Power Lift, etc it doesn’t take long to realize brand new gym equipment is expensive! But why do you need brand new gym equipment unless you are in a turn-key upper class area (you might be, in that case this post probably isn’t for you)? I knew the type of gym I wanted was more hardcore old-school powerlifter so I wasn’t concerned about blowing tens of thousands on shiny new stuff. So I went to Craigslist and searched within a 100 mile radius for gym equipment and found everything I needed to start out. This is what I suggest. Get used stuff! Gym equipment really doesn’t go bad unless it’s cardio equipment and some selectorized stuff. Even the selectorized stuff is durable, just have to replace some pulleys and cables. But benches and racks are just heavy pieces of metal welded and bolted together, no moving parts, so they last. Don’t get me started on plates. Unless you are running comps you don’t need calibrated plates people. Go find some plates at .40-.50 cents/lb and buy them all. Almost the same for dumbbells. Pro-style are the best and what I recommend but honestly I have mostly hex. Hex are perfectly fine to start with, keep your costs low. The heads will eventually fall off but by time that point rolls around you will have more money to get some pro-style. * I will note that I have recently found some local gym equipment fabricators. Quality is the same or better than the big guys, costs are a fraction of the big guys, and they are more personable plus you will be supporting a small business. For anything new this is the route I have started to go. I will name drop a couple good ones I have found, Zach of SOA Welding out of New York and Dean of Black Widow Training Gear out of NY.

You do not need to take out loans to start a gym plus almost all banks require a business to be open for at least 2 years before they can apply for a business loan. Will you be able to afford every piece of gym equipment you need? Probably not. I was not able to. I got what I could with the money I had saved up. Then as my gym started to make money I slowly purchased equipment. Even then I did not buy all new stuff. I actually, again, went to Craigslist, Offer Up, Letgo,  and eBay and found insane deals. I am talking specialty bars that were barely used for 50% off retail, a reverse hyper that was 1/3 cost of a Westside or Rogue hyper, and a monolift that was 1/3 cost of an Elite FTS mono. And they aren’t junk. They are solid pieces that will last decades with some light maintenance. In the two years I have been open the amount of equipment I have has tripled since opening day.

Look for grants in your area! Apply for every grant you can. I was fortunate enough to be one of the winners in a grant contest in my area. This helped tremendously in kicking off my business. This helped me get the security equipment I needed to give my gym 24/7 access and to get a few key pieces of equipment.

I do not have investors so I don’t have a ton of knowledge in this area. I do have opinions though. I will be blunt and say one of the reasons I started my own business was because I didn’t want bosses or co-workers. Investors will want a say, which makes sense because they will want to ensure their money is used wisely. I don’t want anyone but me to have a say. I dealt with too many selfish co-workers and bosses in the past. Also, if I make a bad decision I only have myself to blame. Now you make work well with others better than me so an investor may be a good route for you and may be your only route if you just don’t have the money to do what you want. But DO NOT become a partner with just anyone. Do your research. Make sure they have the same goals and passions for your business as you do. Make sure they are someone you can get along with. Ensure you sign a contract with them! I don’t care if it is your best friend or brother, you need a contract. This is to protect everyone. Is it possible I will have an investor down the road? Sure anything is possible. If God sees it fit for me to have one then I will.

If your passion is to open your own gym but you don’t have much money I am telling you it is feasible. Just don’t expect to have all brand new equipment and every piece you need right in the beginning. I have no business debt at all. That means more profits for me. But know you will be putting a lot of money back into your gym in the first few years so you will need to have a back-up plan for paying your personal expenses. I had a second job for most of the first year plus I have a wife who works.

I hope this was helpful. Thanks for reading. Please share and please comment below with any questions, opinions, etc.

1 Comment

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